Hiwassee Dam historical marker

Hiwassee Dam (Q-54)

Built by the Tennessee Valley Authority, 1936-40, to provide flood control and electricity. Dam is 307 ft. tall. 5 mi. N.E.

Location: NC 294 at SR 1314 (Hiwassee Dam Road) northwest of Ranger
County: Cherokee
Original Date Cast: 2001

In March 1936 the Tennessee Valley Authority (created as part of the New Deal in May 1933) recommended to Congress the construction of nine dams, emphasizing the need for reservoirs and electricity sources on principal tributaries of the Tennessee River. Two, Fontana Dam and Hiwassee Dam, are in North Carolina. The latter originally was known as the Fowler Bend Dam, named for a family that had settled in the area in 1853. In the course of construction, 261 families were displaced, and 462 graves relocated.

Earlier, small-scale efforts to generate power had been attempted on the Hiwassee River and other watercourses in the far western counties of North Carolina. The Hiwassee Dam was not a small-scale effort. Preliminary work commenced on July 15, 1936. The dam was closed on February 8, 1940, and the first power generated on May 21 of that year. Construction of the foundation displaced over 300,000 cubic yards of rock and earth. A crew of 1,600 was employed. As at Fontana, a village of forty-two permanent houses, seventy-three temporary houses, five men’s dormitories, a women’s dormitory, cafeteria, hospital, and community building were constructed. The overspill dam, at 307 feet the nation’s tallest at time of completion (Shasta and Grand Coulee Dams now are taller), was designed by the TVA staff under Roland Wank. The reservoir created by the lake, extending twenty miles upriver to Murphy, covers 163 acres of shoreline and today Hiwassee Lake is a major source of recreation. The final cost was $16.8 million. During World War II the U.S. Army stationed guards at the dam.

In 1956 the first reversible pump-turbine in the nation, built by Allis Chalmers, was installed at Hiwassee. This innovation permitted water to be drawn from the lower lake, raised 300 feet, and put back behind the dam. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1981 named the site a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

United States Tennessee Valley Authority, The Hiwassee Valley Projects: Technical Report No. 5, Vol. 1: A Comprehensive Report on the Planning, Design,
Construction, and Initial Operations (1946)
Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, eds., A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999)
TVA Online: http://www.tva.gov
Carolyn Sakowski, Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads (1993)
Alice D. White, ed., The Heritage of Cherokee County, North Carolina (1987)

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